U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday they have reached an agreement on a framework for Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons, and would seek a UN Security Council resolution that could authorize sanctions — short of military action — if President Bashar Assad's government fails to comply.
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The deal averts the possibility of any immediate U.S. military action against Assad's government.
The diplomats announced on the third day of intense negotiations in Geneva that some elements of the deal include a timetable and how Syria must comply.
Notably, Kerry said they had agreed on grounds under which they might request a Security Council "Chapter 7" resolution, which could include military and non-military sanctions.
The U.S. and Russia are two of the five permanent Security Council members with a veto. The others are Britain, China, and France.
Lavrov called the agreements a "decision based on consensus and compromise and professionalism." But with Russia almost certain to veto any resolution that included military action, Lavrov indicated the limits of using that potential action.
"Any violations of procedures ... would be looked at by the Security Council and if they are approved, the Security Council would take the required measures, concrete measures," Lavrov said.
"Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be approved by the Security Council," he added.
Kerry said any violations will result in "measures" from the Security Council, while Lavrov said the violations must be sent to the Security Council from the board of the chemical weapons convention before sanctions — short of the use of force — would be considered.
At a news conference at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, Kerry said the inspectors must be on the ground by November and destruction or removal of the chemical weapons must be completed by mid-2014.
"We have committed to a standard that says, verify and verify," he said.
Kerry said the pair and their teams of experts had reached "a shared assessment" of Syria's weapons stockpile and that Syria must destroy all of its weapons.
The negotiations between the United States and Russia on securing Syria's chemical weapons also are considered key to a resumption of peace talks to end the 2 1/2-year Syrian civil war.
The agreement on a Russian proposal to inventory, isolate and eventually destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks comes as the Obama administration warned that there is a timetable for a diplomatic resolution of the weapons issue.
Despite the diplomatic breakthrough, chemical weapons only account for around 2 percent of deaths in a civil war in which 100,000 people have been killed.
On Saturday, Syrian warplanes struck against rebel-held suburbs of the capital Damascus and government forces clashed with rebels on the frontlines, according to residents. The residents and opposition activists asked about the deal said that it would not benefit normal Syrians.
'West hostile toward Assad over Israel'
The commander of the rebels' Free Syrian Army, General Selim Idris, told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday that Assad's forces have started moving some of their chemical weapons to Lebanon and Iraq in the last few days to evade a possible UN inspection.
He said that rebel brigades regard the proposed U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Assad's chemical arsenal as a blow to their two-and-a-half-year uprising to remove the president.
Syrian state media broadcast the Kerry and Lavrov news conference live, indicating that Damascus, on the other hand, is satisfied with the deal.
France welcomed the deal as an "important step forward" and said that talks on Monday in Paris would focus on its implementation.
"The draft agreement reached in Geneva about eliminating the Syrian regime's chemical weapons is an important step forward," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement shortly after the deal was struck.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said urgent work would now take place to implement the plan.
"Have spoken to Secretary (John) Kerry," he said on his Twitter feed. "U.K. welcomes U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria chemical weapons. Urgent work on implementation now to take place."
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has published an article lauding the Russian-backed proposal to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons as "intelligent."
In an article dated September 10 and published in the Cuban press on Saturday, the 87-year-old leader said Russia is a "brave country" that "stayed firm before the unusual pretension of the government of the United States, threatening to launch an overwhelming attack against the Syrian defenses."
The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's elite Quds Force, meanwhile, said the West's hostility toward the Syrian government comes over Israel.
A state television report broadcast Saturday quoted Gen. Ghassem Soleimani as saying his country's support of Syria secures "Iran's real national interests." Iran considers Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah — as well as Palestinian militant groups — as part of a "resistance axis" against Israel.
Soleimani said the West knows that a "powerful position of resistance relies on Syria." Last week, Soleimani promised that Iran would support Syria "until the end."
Soleimani's Quds Force oversees the international operations of the Guard.
Iran unwaveringly has supported the Assad regime. It considers Syrian civil war as a crisis instigated by Israel, the West and others.